This past Friday, Kenya Airways cancelled all service to Bujumburu International Airport citing a “security incident.” The U.S. ordered all non-emergency personnel to leave violence-torn Burundi as soon as possible.
Earlier last week, the United Nations moved to pull Burundi back from the brink of “possible genocide,” adopting a French-drafted resolution that called for urgent talks and laid the groundwork for peacekeepers to be sent to stop the killings.
The resolution, unanimously adopted by the Security Council, cited a wave of killings, torture, arrests and other rights violations in the central African nation.
It requested that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon present options to the Council within 15 days on “the future presence of the United Nations in Burundi” to help end the crisis.
Now UN officials are drawing up plans including rushing UN peacekeepers from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Burundi, or deploying a regional force under the African Union, if the violence spirals out of control.
“We know that in the worst case what we are talking about is a possible genocide and we know that we need to do everything that we possibly can to prevent that,” said British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, whose country chairs the Security Council this month.
“The Security Council must fully embrace its role of prevention … and not let the genie of ethnic violence out of the bottle,” French Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters.
But not all analysts see a repeat of the genocides that occurred in Burundi over the last 50 years and some find the language of the international community overblown.
“It is essentially a political conflict,” Carina Tertsakian, a researcher on Burundi for Human Rights Watch, said in an interview with Quartz news wire. “On one side is the president and the ruling party trying to cling on to power and on the other side are his opponents, and those opponents include a mixture of both Hutu and Tutsi… It’s very different from what took place in Burundi in the 1990s.”
While politicians on both sides have tried using ethnic language to whip up popular support, few Burundians are taking the bait, according to Tertsakian. “They’re saying, ‘We don’t want to relive that.”
Further arguing against a new ethnic war, Patrick Hajayandi of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation pointed out that Burundi’s armed forces are now composed of both Hutu and Tutsi and local and national government bodies, including the parliament and the senate are split 60% to 40% between Hutu and Tutsis.
Hajayandi observed in the Guardian newspaper: “So far, violence and clashes have largely been limited to specific areas of the capital, with rural areas remaining relatively peaceful. In fact, the majority of Burundi’s population has shown great resistance to efforts by those wishing to incite them into generalized violence.
“International voices declaring a genocide – when the realities on the ground appear more like a low intensity conflict – could become complicit in fanning the flames of further violence,” he said.
While the situation could deteriorate, he theorized, at the moment the window for political negotiations remains open.
Ugandan mediators tasked with restoring peace should take immediate steps to re-establish a sustained dialogue between the Nkurunziza regime and the opposition, he urged.
Finally, “dialogue is the way forward, not a foreign military intervention prompted by overblown calls of “genocide”, which is likely to radicalize both parties, increasing the likelihood of an all-out civil war. In such a sensitive political climate, hyperbole can make the already precarious situation more fragile.”